[European Union] 'Worrying' increase in online child abuse, Europol says

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21 May 2020

On May 18, Europol’s executive director Catherine De Bolle called the attention of Members of European Parliament to the issue of child sexual online abuse due to the increased use of online applications because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Criminals tried to get access to illegal websites and the number of calls of the child sexual abuse hotline also increased. Because of this, Europol has been following criminals’ chat conversations on the dark web.

De Bolle said Europol had started prevention campaigns for parents and children, too. Online activity, typically because of homeschooling, is not secure and this gives a perfect place for cybercriminals to attack. Authorities say schools and organisations should cooperate in order to have an effective method to protect children.

Criminals now have more time to do harm and children homeschooling alone mean an easy target for them. A US-based nonprofit organisation says child sexual exploitation increased significantly compared to last year’s results. Based on this, De Bolle says Europol needs to have additional powers like direct information-exchange to work more properly. 

Criminals have more opportunities to do harm these days, because like everyone else, they moved online, too. Their method is damaging people’s computers by malware and phishing. Common ways of doing so are creating fake websites and infecting video-conferencing tools. 

It is also frequent to sell fake medicine that typically comes from China and India. Protective equipment that prevents COVID-19 is a common product to sell, too. Theft and burglaries are increasing, in most cases, against older people where criminals pretend themselves to be handymen or decoration workers.

There are areas that seem to be not affected so, for example, illegal migration, human-trafficking and drug-trafficking.

Crisis crimes

De Bolle warmed that this situation will give ample opportunities for criminals. The director said that migrant smuggling, demand of labour and labour exploitation are likely to increase, as well economic and financial crime including money laundering and corruption will. She concluded by saying that strong criminal networks will likely to become stronger by investigating in the legal business and buying real estate.

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